Drunk driver killed Diana, says judge

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THE DEATH of Diana, Princess of Wales was a drink-driving accident that calls for no criminal prosecutions, the French judge who led the 17-month investigation of the crash concluded yesterday.

Mohamed Al Fayed, the father of Diana's companion, Dodi, who also died in the crash in Paris two years ago this week, announced instantly that he would appeal against the decision. His complaint will be heard by a French court of appeal within the next four months but it is thought unlikely to change the outcome.

Both the investigating judge, Herve Stephan, and the Paris public prosecutor have now reached exactly the same decisions, based on more than 3,000 pages of evidence gathered by his investigation.

The judge's principal conclusions are as follows: the Princess died as a result of a road accident; there was no plot or "voluntary act" to murder her; the photographers pursuing her party on motorcycles were not legally to blame - although their behaviour raises moral and ethical questions, which the press as a whole should answer; possible charges of manslaughter and failure to assist people in danger, levelled against nine photographers and one press dispatch rider, should be dropped.

The man chiefly responsible for Diana's death was the driver, Henri Paul, who had been drinking heavily, had taken anti-depressant drugs and lost control of a car he was not qualified to drive. The man responsible for the fact that Mr Paul was driving the armoured Mercedes while drunk was Diana's companion, Dodi Fayed. He should not, however, be blamed for her death.

This last apparently self-contradictory conclusion - Dodi took "multiple decisions" that led to the death of the Princess but he should not be blamed - may have been intended to mollify Mr Al Fayed. If so, it failed. Mr Al Fayed's office said he rejected the inquiry and its conclusions as inadequate and flawed and would appeal.

"We will continue to search for the truth," said his spokesperson, Laurie Mayer. "Mr Al Fayed has a lot of money and is determined to find out why his son and the others died."

Diana's brother, Earl Spencer, thanked the authorities for their efforts - the most exhaustive investigation of a road accident undertaken in France - and said he would "respect the findings".

Romuald Rat, one of the first photographers at the crash scene, said: "This decision is an immense relief ... [It] shows that I and my colleagues were only doing our job, contrary to what some other journalists were in a hurry to say."

Judicial sources said yesterday that they expected Mr Al Fayed's appeal to be heard by the Chambre d'Accusations of the Paris Court of Appeal before the end of the year. Even if it is rejected, as expected, there may be further legal actions.

Dodi Fayed's former bodyguard, Trevor Rees-Jones, the only survivor of the crash, may take civil action against the Ritz Hotel (owned by his former employer), which supplied the driver and the car or possibly against the company that rented the car to the Ritz. Mr Al Fayed, Diana's family and Mr Paul's family are also "civil parties" in the case and could bring civil actions if they wish.

In a brief communique issued yesterday, Judge Stephan said the accident was "caused by the fact that the driver was drunk and under the influence of medicines incompatible with alcohol, which prevented him from maintaining control of the vehicle while travelling at high speed". The fact that Mr Paul, the Ritz security chief, had been recalled to drive the car when off duty was "the consequence of multiple decisions taken by Ehmad [Dodi] Al Fayed, but these should not be held against him". No legal case can be established against the photographers but their behaviour "raises questions, both for them and those on whose behalf they were acting, about the moral and ethical standards of their profession".